Day 1 -- August 8, 2003
Our Holy Cross trip was rescheduled to this weekend after Julie had to bail last weekend when she couldn’t get away from work. We celebrated my baby sister’s nineteenth birthday on Thursday at The Fort (great restaurant near Morrison) and Julie and I spent the night at my parents’ house in Littleton. We woke up at 6:15 Friday morning, threw our clothes on, filled our water bottles, had a few bites of leftover birthday cake, and hit the road.
The drive up to Vail was uneventful and we pulled off to stop at McDonalds for one last restroom break. They had the doors by the restrooms locked so that we had to go through the front door. I’m not sure if this was to discourage people like us who only wanted to use the restroom without purchasing anything. Regardless, I had no problem with just marching straight back to the restrooms without buying anything. I figured I’ve bought enough hamburgers from them in my short 25 years that the least they can do is let me use there facilities every once in a while.
With that task done we headed for the trailhead. I was surprised by how big Minturn had become. The last time I came through it I hadn’t remembered the strip mall on the I-70 side of town or the upscale condos on the Leadville side of town. All I remembered was the few shops and restaurants near where the dogleg was. I supposed it shouldn’t have surprised me that it’s being built up. It had a really great location being situated right between Vail and Beaver Creek Ski Areas. I bet that in another five to ten years it will be glitzed up just like Vail and Avon. Then I tried to think back: when was the last time I passed through Minturn? It must have been the last time I rode “The Iron Triangle” bicycle ride with my dad and his friends five years earlier. The Iron Triangle is a bike ride one of my dad’s friends made up. It starts in Frisco and goes over Vail Pass to Minturn. Then it heads over Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass to Leadville. From there it goes over Freemont Pass into Copper Mountain and then rolls back into Frisco. It’s a nice ride and almost exactly one hundred miles.
Anywho, we drove through Minturn and we accidentally missed our turnoff. I was expecting to see a sign or something but when the road hit the switchbacks I knew that something was probably wrong. Unfortunately I’d left the map in my pack so I had to pull over to the side of the road and run around to the back and fish it out. When we studied the map it was clear that I should have taken the right turn before crossing over the Eagle River. We retraced our steps and then headed up the dirt road. Soon we arrived at the trailhead. We got our gear together and I filled out the new voluntary permit form. There was also a Forest Service employee gearing up and he made sure to double check that I filled out the permit. After I filled out the form I came back to the car to throw my pack on. Julie looked at me with tears forming in her eyes to tell me that she felt a migraine coming on. I asked her what the consequence of this was on our plans. She said she didn’t know but she wanted to soldier on. She took her migraine medications and we both hoped for the best.
We set out up the trail. Initially the trail wound through stands of aspen mixed with pine and every once in a while there was a little meadow filled with wildflowers. We even saw a young doe bound through one of these meadows. Julie wasn’t complaining about her head and we were moving pretty quickly so I began to hope against hope that the migraine wasn’t going to be a big deal. Unfortunately I was wrong and another twenty minutes down the trail Julie stopped and told me that she couldn’t go on. Up until we saw the deer, Julie hadn’t been in any real pain. She’d been seeing a halo and here vision had been a little cloudy but that was it. However, after we passed the deer her vision cleared up and the headache began. At this point it was too much for her to bare. We discussed our options and came to the conclusion that there were four real choices: (a) We could both go back to the car and dump our packs and Julie could sleep off the headache while I found some way to amuse myself during the day. We could then car-camp that night and I could make a one-day trip of Mount of the Holy Cross the following day. (b) Julie could go back to the car by herself and sleep off the headache. I could continue on alone spend the night by myself in the backcountry and then climb Holy Cross the following day. After the climb I would pack back out to the car where Julie would meet me after amusing herself in Vail or somewhere during the day. (c) We could sit and wait it out and see if the headache went away. (d) I could go on alone while Julie sat and waited for her headache to abate. She could then try to catch up.
We were both frustrated with the situation and tensions were high. I had my heart set on this trip for at least half a year and Julie was also looking forward to it. It was hard for me to hold back my disappointment and Julie was interpreting this as me being angry with her. After a difficult conversation we decided on option (c). However, I was too antsy to just sit there and wait so I decided to hump my pack up to the top of Half Moon Pass and then come back down for hers. While I was doing this Julie dragged out her sleeping bag and sleeping pad and took a nap. It only took me fifteen minutes to hike up to the top of Half Moon Pass. When I got there I was a little confused that I wasn’t able to see Mount of the Holy Cross. I was under the impression that it would pretty obvious, but it wasn’t. There were some mountains off in the distance, but none of them looked like Mount of the Holy Cross and they looked a long way off. I got out my map and studied it. It looked possible that Mount of the Holy Cross was farther around to the south and that I couldn’t see it yet because the flanks of Notch Mountain were in the way. If this was the case then the peaks I saw off in the distance were probably Grouse Mountain. I hoped I was right.
After I got all that sorted out I headed back down to where Julie was napping. When I got there Julie said she needed some more time. I sat for another twenty minutes waiting. I woke Julie again and discussed our options. I realized now that I had killed all our options by humping my pack up to the top of Half Moon Pass because the car keys were in my pack. I silently berated myself for being so stupid. Since I had been such an idiot Julie decided that she would gut it out up to the top of the pass and we could re-evaluate the situation then. I sent her on her way while I packed up her sleeping bag and sleeping pad and then humped her pack up the trail. I quickly passed her and made my way to the top of the pass. Thankfully Julie’s pack was much lighter than mine (hers was roughly 25 pounds while mine was close to 40 pounds), however I didn’t want to mess it up for her by adjusting the straps. Consequently it sat on my back really high and was pretty uncomfortable.
While I sat on top of the pass and waited for Julie a couple came up from the East Cross Creek side. We chatted for a few minutes and they confirmed my suspicion that Mount of the Holy Cross was hidden behind the slopes of Notch Mountain. This couple was from somewhere along the Mississippi River and had come out here to scatter the ashes of a friend on Mount of the Holy Cross. Right as they were heading back down to the trailhead Julie showed up at the summit. She said she was starting to feel better and was encouraged that it was downhill all the way to East Cross Creek. I told here that we could stop there for the day if she was still feeling crappy and that bolstered her spirits. We were both feeling happy that she felt well enough to continue.
After a nice long rest on the top of Half Moon Pass we continued down the other side. On the way down we met a fellow with a daypack coming up. I asked him if he climbed Mount of the Holy Cross and he said he had. He’d left the trailhead at 7:00 and taken the standard route up to the summit. He wished me luck on my summit bid for the following day and we parted ways. Soon Julie and I made it down to East Cross Creek.
When we got there we met the Forest Service employee we’d seen at the trailhead. This time I took the opportunity to talk with him a little bit. He carried a shovel with him and I asked him what he had been working on. He said that he’d been disassembling fire rings at the campsites where East Cross Creek crossed Half Moon Trail. Fires were not allowed anywhere in the East Cross Creek drainage. He asked me where we were planning on camping and I told him Lake Patricia. He seemed pleasantly surprised and said we would have a great time. I took this opportunity to ask him what the best way to get up there was. Now I’m not exactly sure what happened, but there was a significant miscommunication between us on this point. I’m not sure if he told me wrong, or he told me correctly and my ears translated what he said incorrectly to my brain. Either way, I thought he told me to look for the inlet into the beaver pond and that’s where I would find a nice trail. Regardless, this was incorrect and I should have looked for the trail at the outlet of the beaver pond. Nevertheless, I thanked him for his advice and he took off back to the trailhead while Julie and I stopped for a rest and a snack.
Julie was feeling much better. She said her headache was all but gone. The only significant consequence from the migraine was the effect of the medication she’d taken. Julie said that it acted like a muscle relaxant and consequently her body was moving very slowly and she couldn’t go very fast. That was okay with me. If she could continue, I was gung-ho for making it up to Lake Patricia. She said she was game so I left her there to rest a little bit while I went to try to find this beaver pond and its inlet. After circling all the way around it from the west I found it, and what looked like a faint trail. Thinking I’d found the correct route I returned back to Julie. We saddled up once more and headed out.
We maneuvered around the beaver pond and then tried to follow the faint trail I’d found. This quickly petered out into a mass of willows. We bushwhacked through the willows until we encountered a large, steep boulder field. Some of these boulders were huge (ten-foot cubes) and required some serious climbing to surmount. To aid our progress, I pushed on ahead, dropped my pack, and then returned down to Julie to grab her pack. There were several moves that were a real challenge for me with a full pack. After making it past the boulders we encountered more impossibly steep terrain bordered on one side by a sheer rock face and the other side by the creek and a mass of willows. I continued to hump both Julie’s and my packs up the hill until we ran into a rock face. Our choices were to cross the creek, or go horizontally the other way until we could find a way up the rock wall. I thought crossing the creek was a bad move because all the rocks were wet and covered with slimy moss. I didn’t think there was any way we could get solid footing and make our way across without slipping and falling (a fall would have meant tumbling down the creek for a hundred feet). Instead I left Julie and our packs at that spot while I looked for another way up. After traversing along the rock face for a couple hundred feet I found a gully that would continue taking us upward. I marched back to Julie, we grabbed our packs, and we soldiered on. This gully was filled with soft duff, making the footing squishy. We continued climbing up this, me going ahead with my pack and then returning to help Julie with hers. After what seemed like forever, we finally reached what seemed to be the top of the steep stuff.
The only good thing about this part of the hike was that it was in the shade. I think the only one of us that was having any fun was our dog, Poudre. With being in the shade, going at a slow pace, and having all kinds of stuff to scramble over Poudre was having a ball.
We rested on top of this hill and drank hardily. We were starting to run out of water so I was hoping we’d make it soon. Either that, or I’d have to find a stream to filter some more water. After our rest we continued on. After another hundred yards of cross-country bushwhacking we came across what appeared to be a trail. This gave our spirits a big boost and we followed the trail along relatively flat ground until we were confronted by another sheer rock wall. By this time Julie was utterly exhausted and I wasn’t doing much better. We rested for a few minutes and then I continued on with my pack while Julie sat. There were some cairns marking a steep path up around the east side of the rock face so I followed them. The trail climbed steeply around the rock face and then popped out into a meadow with a small pond in it. I followed the trail around the first pound, then past another pond, and then another. After passing the third pond the trail petered out into another rock face. I climbed around to the west of the rock face. Out of breath and frustrated I decided to climb up on top of the rock to see if I could get a better feel for where exactly I was in the valley. I dropped my pack and scrambled the last fifteen feet to the top of the rock. The rock turned out to be a high spot in the ridge and I could see down to the east, west, and north. Unfortunately I could not see Lake Patricia so I sat down and pulled out the map. After studying the map I determined that Lake Patricia must be directly downhill to our east, just out of sight below the trees. On the map I was able to identify the small ponds I passed and Lake Patricia was directly east of them.
I climbed back down off the rock and back around to the meadow with the last pond. I dropped my pack and went back down to collect Julie. I found her where I left her underneath the rock face. I tried to encourage her, telling her that we were really close. Of course I’d been saying that for the last hour, so the words had little effect. I coaxed Julie onward while I hoisted her pack onto my shoulders once more. We climbed up the steep path and passed the tiny ponds. When Julie saw the first one she asked if that was Lake Patricia. I told her no, but fortunately it was now all downhill to Lake Patricia. When we reached my pack, I turned Julie’s pack over to her, and grabbed my own. We bushwhacked downhill to the east and within five minutes we were resting on the shores of Lake Patricia!
There were several nice rock slabs on the west shore of the lake. They made perfect spots for lounging and Julie and I just lay there for half an hour. While we were resting a group of obnoxious hikers came down East Cross Creek from upstream. They were shouting and hollering and being annoying. Julie and I worried that we’d have to share the lake all weekend with this group. We heard their bantering for another hour or so but soon it dissipated into silence. They must have been on a day hike because we didn’t see them again. I would have liked to stay there on that rock for another hour, but both Julie and I were parched and we were completely out of water. We reluctantly picked up our packs and looked for a site to pitch our tent. Luckily there was one close by and we dropped our packs for the last time. We started to unload and I took all our Nalgene bottles down to the lake to filter some water. After